IMOGENE — A 1,200-acre grassland in northeast Fremont County has been hosting pheasant and quail hunters since the late 1980s. Positioned in southern Iowa’s quail belt, Lake Shawtee is in the region with the highest quail counts in the state, and that saw its pheasant counts rise to the second highest in a decade.
This corner of Iowa is well positioned for a busy hunting season.
While Lake Shawtee will eventually be home to a lake, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is managing it as a grassland and, with help from the Fremont-Mills Pheasants Forever chapter, is working to improve pheasants and quail numbers.
The partnership with Pheasants Forever has resulted in improving quail habitat along field edges and plum thickets to increase survival. The technique is to cut and leave trees and brush along row crop field edges. The area is allowed to grow up with seed-producing annual weeds. Weeds provide quail food and additional cover right in the brush.
Grass growing among plum thickets is sprayed to allow the area to come up in weeds with the similar food and cover goal.
With a significant focus on managing for northern bobwhites, Lake Shawtee is one of 23 National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative focus areas in the nation. Wildlife biologist Matt Dollison, and the technicians at the Nishnabotna Wildlife Unit, conduct quail and pheasant call surveys from specific locations at specific times and the results can be compared to all of the other focus areas that follow the same survey protocols.
While most hunters come from surrounding counties, Lake Shawtee does host a few hunters from the Des Moines area, and from Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina who likely found Lake Shawtee from its participation in the quail initiative. Lake Shawtee likely isn’t the only destination for hunters, as Fremont County has more than 16,000 acres of land open to public hunting and neighboring Mills County has nearly 6,000 acres.
“Use on the area has picked up beyond the first two weekends, extending longer into the season,” Dollison said. “While we don’t have the pheasant numbers that north-central Iowa has, our pheasant numbers have increased steadily since we started the counts in 2014, and we have quail, who’s numbers have almost doubled in that same time.”
Just four miles northwest of Lake Shawtee is the town of Imogene, home of Emerald Isle restaurant.
“When I first purchased the bar, I thought there was almost zero pheasant hunting in the area,” said owner Kevin Olson who purchased the bar nine years ago and has been serving hungry patrons his signature breaded pork tenderloin ever since.
But over time, he has seen his customer base wearing blaze orange grow. A significant portion of Emerald Isle’s business comes from snow goose, pheasant, duck and quail hunters and Olson has come to recognize three sets of hunters who return each fall.
“They’ve become regulars, just once a year regulars,” Olson said. “Its dollars you see come, that wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
This fall, Emerald Isle will hold its first longest pheasant tail feather contest. Hunters planning to stop in should know Emerald Isle is off the grid, as cell service is limited and they don’t take debit or credit cards.